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For new graduates and retirees, Colorado attracts

Pro-growth government policies, along with a pleasant climate, pull Mainers west.

My wife Sally and I were in Colorado Springs this past weekend for the wedding of the son of longtime friends of ours from Cumberland.

Their son went to college in Florida and soon settled in Colorado Springs, where his younger brother had found a good job shortly after college.

Colorado has had one of the fastest-growing economies in the country over the past 10 years, fueled by lots of high-tech development in Greater Denver and also oil and gas development. It has been an area of opportunity for young college graduates.

Consequently, Colorado has had a strong in-migration of people between the ages of 25 and 35. While our friends' sons are but a small example, they are representative, and they love the area. There are 300 or so days of sun and lots of wonderful mountains for hiking, biking and skiing.

So it is not a surprise that these young men and many other young people like them have moved to Colorado. Such openness to seek out opportunity and challenge in the West is a story that started more than a century ago in this country and is still playing out today.

What is more surprising is that it is also happening with the over-60 crowd. We spent our first day out West visiting other friends from Cumberland who moved to Fort Collins two years ago after retiring.

Herein lies a tale. This couple met at the University of Maine and lived all of their adult lives in Maine – one as a high school librarian, the other as a human resources professional. They had been longtime members of our church in Cumberland, very active in the church and the community. They had a wide network of friends and family in Maine.

When they told us they were moving to Colorado, we were shocked. We knew that they loved to hike and had spent many school vacations hiking in the West. But they were such consummate Mainers that we just couldn't think of them moving.

We were interested in finding out how they were adapting to Fort Collins and retirement. The answer to both is "really well, thank you." They have found a wonderful UCC church, much like ours in Cumberland. They live in a small neighborhood of recently built homes. Many of their neighbors have also moved to Fort Collins from away and are most open to new friendships.

Being close to the foothills of the Rockies, they have access to many local hiking and biking trails. They also are within an hour's drive of Rocky Mountain National Park, boasting several peaks between 12,000 and 14,000 feet. We spent a fine day with them touring and hiking in the park.

Moreover, they have found that their cost of living is at least 30 percent lower than in Maine. The weather on the eastern slope of the Rockies is surprisingly mild. Therefore, they spend much less on energy – and energy is much cheaper in any case.

Food is less expensive than in Maine, and taxes in Colorado are also significantly lower, particularly as Colorado exempts the first $25,000 of retirement income from state taxes.

What lessons are in this for Maine? Colorado has been intentional in tax policies that have favored economic development. The state also has been intentional in a policy of limiting the growth of taxes. Colorado was one of the first in the country to pass legislation limiting the growth in state spending.

The Colorado approach has been controversial. Arguably the first version of spending limits turned out to be too restrictive and has been subsequently modified to give the state more flexibility. Overall, the approach seems to be working for Colorado.

The Colorado experience, as a minimum, suggests that well-constructed limits on public spending can work in ways that help the economy without crippling education or other state services.

In a state like Maine, with a documented history of chronic public overspending, this is a lesson we should ponder.

In November we will be voting on TABOR II, the latest version of an approach to limit public spending. I have not supported these initiatives in the past, but I will be taking a long look at TABOR II and will have more to say on this topic as the November vote approaches.